Phase 4 reopen may come Monday for NYC; Cuomo tightens rules for bars to curb COVID-19 spread

FILE PHOTO: News conference at LaGuardia Airport’s new Terminal B in New York
FILE PHOTO: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at LaGuardia Airport’s new Terminal B, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2020. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

The state is tightening the reins on bars and restaurants in New York City as Governor Andrew Cuomo eyes a Monday start to the city’s fourth phase of reopening.

On July 15, the number of hospitalizations dropped to 813, and 14 fatalities as a result of COVID-19. Of the 72,685 tests that were performed, only 769 tests came back positive, giving New York an overall infection rate of 1.06%.

New York City is aiming to move into Phase 4 of reopening on Monday, July 20, but the governor said that an official call would be made on July 17 after further data is analyzed.

According to Cuomo, there have been issues with compliance issues in New York City, as well as other areas downstate, particularly with bars and restaurants not adhering to social distancing guidelines or outdoor dining instructions.

Due to these issues of noncompliance, the state is enacting a “three strikes” rule in New York City that if a restaurant is hit with three failing to comply with COVID-19 measures violations, the establishment will be closed down. Restaurants and bars that have received disciplinary action will be posted online.

“There is significant evidence of failure to comply,” said Cuomo. “It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, it’s selfish, and it’s illegal.”

Throughout the state, it will also be mandated that outdoor dining establishments cannot sell alcohol to patrons that are not ordering food. Walk-up bar service will also be banned. According to Cuomo, both of these actions do not support social distancing and will lead to more mingling between customers.

“Outdoor dining, if they think that meant an outdoor bar, they’re wrong. and that’s the exact behavior that we’re seeing across the nation that’s causing an increase in the virus. So that was never authorized in the first place. Takeout drinks were authorized, but the takeout drinks were you could purchase the container and then the container law, and you can go home and drink it. but there was never an authorization of outside congregant drinking. That was never authorized,” said Cuomo in a later conference.

“Prohibiting people seated at a table from having a beer on a hot summer day unless they order food is counterproductive. People will simply gravitate to stoops, streets and parks with open containers creating less safe conditions elsewhere,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “Businesses need to be responsible for the activity on their property, but staff certainly can’t be deputized to police the streets. It jeopardizes workers’ safety and subjects businesses to incredible liabilities for behaviors out of their control.”

Should New York City enter Phase 4 of reopening on July 20, Cuomo says that no additional indoor activity will be allowed, meaning indoor cultural institutions will be closed for the time being. 

“If we go into Phase 4 with New York City, we will do so without any additional indoor activity,” said Cuomo. “We are seeing issues inside with interior spaces where the virus is tending to spread. We’re taking that precaution in New York City.”

Updated at 4:45 p.m.